How to bake level cake layers (DIY cake strips!)

I’ve had my struggles with cake layers. They always come out domed and I always trim off less dome than they really need, which means slidey cake, drooping frosting, and all around MESS.

How to bake level cake layers

To remedy this, I’ve read about using cake strips (strips that wrap around the pan and magically create flat layers) or baking the cake at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. I think I’ve also heard something about baking soda. But I’ve never had the patience to wait EXTRA long for a cake to bake and I’ve never been willing to shell out $12 for two strips of metallic material. This is a good thing!

How to bake level cake layers

Because it turns out that you can make your own cake strips for FREE! And it’s so easy. Because here’s what cake strips do: they cool the outside of the pan so the cake bakes evenly. So all you really need is wet material wrapped around the pan.

Let’s talk cake science for a sec: normally when cake layers bake, the outside of the cake bakes faster than the middle. By the time the middle starts to cook through, the batter has nowhere to go but up, which creates the dome. By putting moist material around the outside of the pan, you’re helping cool the outside, allowing the cake to bake more evenly.

DIY Cake Strips

What you’ll need for DIY cake strips:

  • scrap material (an old T-shirt or kitchen towel will work fabulously)
  • scissors
  • safety pins

Cut the scrap material into a strips long enough to fit around your cake pan. I only used one strip, but you can use several—more coverage is not a bad thing. Safety pin the ends of the strip together. When you’re ready to bake the cake, run the material under water and squeeze out so that it’s as wet as possible without dripping. Replace the strip around the pan and bake!

Do as I say, not as I do.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Note: the first time I did this, I lazily tied my band of cloth into a knot instead of cutting to the right length and safety-pinning the ends. I think this caused a dimple in the cake:

How to bake level cake layers

Not a huge deal, but if you want a perfect layer, don’t do that.

And now for some close ups for those of you thinking: does it really make a difference?

How to bake level cake layers

How to bake level cake layers

I also dropped my cake pans on the counter a few times before baking. This helps spread the batter evenly and get rid of air bubbles. And really annoy your neighbors. (By the way! I think I got new ones. Neighbors, I mean. In my apartment complex, my balcony faces the balcony on the opposite building. So the new couple were out having a cute dinner on their bench the other night while I spent the entire time crouching on my balcony 50 feet away photographing this cake. I’m embarrassing.)

But at least I got a cake that looked like this:

How to bake level cake layers

Which I would have shared.

How to bake level cake layers

They were just too far away.

Thank you to this lovely, humble blog for sharing this fabulous trick! I will be dismembering T-shirts and baking flat a** cakes for decades to come.

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70 thoughts on “How to bake level cake layers (DIY cake strips!)

  1. Pingback: Orange Crunch Cake | The Kitchen Prescription

  2. Judith Pieterse

    I would like to know, would this work for fruitcakes that sink in the middle too? It’s not the fruit that sinks, the cake actually dents in in the middle.
    Thank You

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Hi Judith–that sounds more like a case of a recipe that doesn’t have enough leavener to make it rise. This technique helps flatten the dome that usually forms when baking cakes; it won’t help lift up sunken middles, unfortunately!

      Reply
  3. Safeena Islam

    Hi I read the blog doesn’t the fabric around the tin burn when you put it in the oven?

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Hi Safeena–apologies for my late reply, but no, I’ve never had trouble with the fabric burning. Generally my cakes are in the oven for around 30-40 minutes, so I can’t speak for something that might bake for 1 hour+, but you shouldn’t have trouble with a typical cake layer!

      Reply
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  5. Dena

    I tried these for the first time last night and was so grateful to finally have flat cake layers! It was so easy too.

    My only suggestion to everyone is to be careful about t-shirt fuzz. I grabbed a junk t shirt out of my drawer and cut it up. It was teal colored – I was making a white cake. I ended up picking teal fuzz out of my cake and my icing. It was quite a pain. Just something to keep in mind.

    Reply
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    1. erika Post author

      Hi Heidi! A safety pin looks like this: http://www.medixsupplies.com/images/Safety_Pin.jpg and that’s one way to keep the strips around the pan. Another way is to do what I did initially and tie the ends of your material into a knot (see picture 4). You could also try using a small ring of stretchy material (such as the edge of a small T-shirt) so that the material can stretch around the pan and not fall off. Hope that helps! :)

      Reply
      1. Heidi

        Sure it helped,thank you soooooooooo much i tried it and the result is wow I can’t believe it
        thank you again you are marvelous :)

        Reply
      2. Elaine

        Hi Erika, Well, I’ve been baking for over 40 years and I have NEVER heard of baking strips until I saw your blog today! Whenever I had baked layer cakes, I’ve always had to slice off the mound! You have saved the day! I went on google to find out the prices of cake strips and was dismayed at the prices! WOW! I will use your suggestions for DIY cake strips from now on! LOVE your blog! Keep up the good work! Elaine

        Reply
        1. erika Post author

          Elaine, I’m so glad to hear it! I hope these work out well for you. Happy baking and thanks so much for the kind words! :)

          Reply
        1. erika Post author

          Yes, they should be the perfect size! Just make sure there’s no elastic/funky stuff on the inside that will melt in the oven :)

          Reply
    2. Sharon

      How long can these cloth strips stay in the oven? I’m skittish about this and don’t want them to burn…

      Reply
      1. erika Post author

        Hi Sharon–that’s a great question! I usually use these to bake 8-9″ layer cakes, which takes ~35-45 minutes. I haven’t tested longer than that, but probably would not want to leave them in for longer than an hour. Hope that helps–let me know how they work out for you! :)

        Reply
  7. Tommy

    We bake cheesecakes sitting in a larger pan (water bath) to prevent cracking – same principle is probably involved. So I wonder if we could just set our filled and ready cake pans in a larger pan with a water bath and get even layer baking; comments? Anyone tried it?

    Reply
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    1. erika Post author

      Hi Stacy! I’ve never tried these on a 9×13, but the concept work similarly, though it may not be quite as effective given the different shape of the pan. If you can get the strips to stay (which may be tricky since the sides of my 9×13 are slanted vs. the straight sides of my round cake pans), go for it! Just take care that they won’t fall off.

      Reply
  9. Tarah

    I have a ton of those cloth headbands, they’re about 2″ thick and I never, ever wear them. After I read this post, I couldn’t imagine cutting up my clothing *gasp*… But those headbands came to mind! If you stretch them out, they fit beautifully around 8-9″ rounds! I’ll try it today and hopefully it’ll work, wish me luck! Thank you for your tip! My dad’s cake will be perfectly even!

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Tarah, that sounds like a brilliant use for them! Good luck–let me know how it goes (and tell me what kind of cake you end up making)!!

      Reply
  10. beth sowell

    holy cow! this did work beautifully. i actually had an old wife beater that i cut the bottom off of. i cut it into two strips and soaked those. i was able to wrap it twice around the pan tightly. my cakes are perfect! thank you so much.

    Reply
  11. Amanda

    This is great :] I was inspired by your post and instead of using t-shirts, I actually just used two of those fabric headbands, the ones that are super wide and never seem to stay your head anyway! They’ve been put to a much better use now instead of collecting dust in a drawer

    Reply
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  15. Estelle

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! It worked 100% and I am so happy I want to sing and dance. I’ve been wasting so much cake and refuse to pay for bake even strips. My kids won’t like it because now they won’t get the cake I usually cut off. LOL :-)

    Reply
      1. Estelle

        I totally agree. It was on my “buy when you have too much money to use” list but now it’s totally off. I am baking a Smurfs 2 cake and planned on using 3 layers for the stem but the cake is so high that I can use 2 layers. I am all smiles. :-)

        Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Oof that’s a good question. I honestly have no idea. You could certainly try wrapping some cake strips around the pan but make sure they’re fastened securely!

      I just did a quick google search and it seems as though people do not recommend using cake strips on bundt cakes. Popular opinion on the best option seems to be trimming the bottom once it’s done baking (you can try using floss for this–I hear it works well).

      Reply
  16. Nancy @ gottagetbaked

    Erika, this is the most brilliant thing I’ve read in a long time. You are amazing. Everyone keeps telling me to buy cake strips (I mean, are my layers really that hideous?! Hmm…yeah, sometimes they are!) but I’m way too cheap. I am totally going to do this…although I’m also really lazy so I might just keep baking on the way I bake, lol.

    Reply
  17. Lianna

    this is brilliant, thank you for sharing this tip!! I’ve never heard of cake strips before, but I’m glad now I don’t have to shell out the extra couple of bucks to get perfect flat cake layers! haha I’m actually laughing picturing you on your balcony mid-photography session feet away from your new neighbours..i wonder what they must have thought! whatever, your photos turned out gorgeous so it was definitely worth it!

    Reply
  18. Brandi

    Awesome Erika! Such a great idea…this may sound silly, but my first thought was the shirt catching on fire, lol!! Really great side by side photos too! It obviously works!

    Reply
  19. Alexandra @ Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker

    I love this DIY tip! I’ve heard about cake strips but it’s always been one of those things I need spur-of-the-moment. I also think that I’ve heard about wrapping wet paper towels around the cake or something, but I think a simple strip of fabric that can be re-used sounds way easier! I love the side-by-side photos too; if I had any doubt this worked before reading this post, that doubt is gone! I’ll definitely be doing this when I bake cakes from now on.
    P.S. Glad to see you’re back in cake world, haha! And I do the cake banging thing too; it’s good for bundt cakes.

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Ah yay. Same here–I always put off buying cake strips, but then I never had them when I needed them. Problem solved! Glad this can help you out :) And yes, definitely back in the cake world. I’ve been bitten by the cake bug!

      Reply
  20. Bubblybaker

    Erika, this is AMAZING!
    I always have problems with the centre of my cakes rising too much and me struggling to level it right. Thanks so much for this post – it’s so informative and you’ve explained it so well. I am definitely giving this a try next time I bake a layer cake. I’m so glad you found my blog through Irena, because it’s led me to your amazing blog! :D

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Arg I responded to this a few days ago but I guess it never went through!! Thank you SO much, I’m so glad you hear you thought it was explained well–I was worried it would be confusing! Let me know how it goes for you the next time you try it! And you are too sweet–I’m glad I found YOUR blog!

      Reply
  21. The Wimpy Vegetarian

    GENIUS!!!!! I love this. I’m in the same club with you – no way I was going to shell out for the cake strips. But this wet rag trick is just the best. I love it and can’t wait to try it. You should totally make up t-shirts. Totally!

    Reply
  22. Leah

    Erika, this is AWESOME! I’m taking my 2nd Wilton Cake Decorating class so as you can imagine, we have to bake a lot of cakes. The instructor told us about baking strips, but like you, I was not about to pay $12-$15 for them so I’ve been getting lots of poofy tops. I’m DEFINITELY going to give this a try! Thanks so much for sharing.

    P.S. Your story about new neighbors and you crouching to take pictures is hilarious!

    Reply
      1. erika Post author

        Haha I kind of got that vibe from browsing your blog! I like your style ;) Your pancakes look fabulous!

        And haha–that is so funny about your boyfriend! Do you make cakes a lot? I can’t say my boyfriend has ever complained about that…but he almost never bakes!

        Reply
  23. Kym

    genius. Again. I tried baking my frist cake last night but i couldnt get the batter to spread evenly, ill have to try your banging trick! :P

    Reply

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